I wake up the following morning to see Cam staring right at me.
And then my face meets the ground.
It’s surprising and utterly humiliating how, as a twenty-four-year-old, I can still manage to find a way to fall off my bed.
“Sorry to startle you.” I hear his voice speaking from above me, followed by heavy footsteps and when I lift my head up, I see his outstretched hand in front of me. “I thought I might wake you up because of the time, but you looked so peaceful in your sleep and I can tell you needed the rest after last night.”
The burning pain starts to disperse across my face, but I grab his hand and let him pull me back up my feet, and I soon realize that I’m not at home, and this isn’t my bed at all—it’s not even a proper bed, for the love of god, it’s a couch.
“What time is it?” I groan out sleepily, rubbing my eyes to get a clearer vision and a clearer mind of what’s going on here. I take in my surroundings and remember yesterday’s events. Right, I’m at Cam’s place for the night. Fuck my life.
“Eleven thirty-five,” he says, glancing to the clock on the wall opposite to us.
“Wow,” is all I have to say, and although I’m aware I should be alarmed by the fact that it’s almost noon by now, I find myself not giving a damn about the time and my responsibilities, mostly because it’s already the start of the weekends. Just the right thing I need for the week I’ve had.
He circles around the table and heads towards the front door, where he grabs and puts on the same coat he’s been wearing for at least the past five years. He glances over his shoulder at me and asks if I want any lunch, even though I didn’t even have breakfast yet.
“I’ll have whatever you’re having,” I say, shrugging.
“You’re a guest at my house,” he insists, his voice still as stern as yesterday. What the hell has happened to him? “I’m fine with buying whatever you want for lunch.” When I shake my head, he sighs. “Well, will you be all right if I leave you alone here for twenty minutes? I’ll lock the door.”
“Yeah, that’s okay.”
After taking a second glance at me then giving me a small smile, he closes the door behind him as he leaves, and once again I find myself alone in a place that has already become too foreign for me to be comfortable in it. The blanket I draped over myself is now half on the couch and half on the floor, and the pillow is strewn about. My purse and files still laid out on the table. The only thing in this room that’s different than last night is that the beige curtains are drawn back, allowing sunlight to burst through the windows, removing any obvious signs of last night’s weather.
I find myself sitting and lying back down on the couch, my body demanding more sleep than it already has. The cup of tea is still on the edge of the table, but the liquid has gone cold and the taste isn’t that strong anymore. My stomach starts growling, allowing me to feel its emptiness but I have no choice but to wait until Cam comes back. I stare at the pale ceiling—he hasn’t changed his house much ever since we separated, still keeping the same brown carpeting and painted walls, the cheap furniture and old appliances that somehow have yet to break down. Upstairs may not be much different, either, and I’m not in the mood to start exploring places I should not be in.
And so I check my phone again. Not surprising to see ten more messages from Isabelle this morning, a couple more from my boyfriend and a good amount of emails sent to my inbox. I don’t need to check Izzy’s so I open Andrew’s first; it turns out he’s just informing me of stuff I already know, including the fact that he’s coming home tomorrow after a week outside the country.
I know this is a ridiculous, nigh-impossible thing to happen, but I would sometimes wish he would take me with him whenever he goes on overseas trips. I’d like to see what it’s like in the world outside of the place I grew up in and the place I currently live, having being only able to see the exact same old sights every single time I travel. I’ve heard of exotic places people go to for vacation, friends telling me of their own personal experiences overseas, I even have a bucket list of places I want to visit if I ever get the chance…
But all of that’s nothing but a dream now. The bucket list is gone somewhere underneath the piles of paperwork and manuscripts on my desk. Andrew comes and goes as much as he needs to, and once he does come back, we’ll go on a date or two where we talk about things then he’ll leave again. It’s been the same old cycle ever since we’ve started dating, and to be honest, I can’t help but think back to Cam’s words last night, about breaking the cycle and do what I’ve always wanted to do in life.
Shaking my head, I choose to forget about previously-forgotten dreams and decide to focus back on my work—I’ll need the money to get there in the first place, right?—and open the fifteen unopened emails. Most of them are promotions and spam stuff, one is a job offer, a few others just social media notifications. And then, after getting to the last one, sent just a few minutes after midnight, I read the title and nearly drop my phone.
I open the email, to check if I’ve been pranked or anything, but to my dismay, I wasn’t.
Dear Ms. Patterson,
In reference to the events that occurred yesterday, August 21st, 2015, I hereby state that your employment with Pendleton Publishing has been terminated with effect from August 22nd, 2015.
Your employment is terminated because you committed company personnel and resources to a client after being told by the publisher that the company would not provide these resources with that potential client.
In addition to the above, you have shown unacceptable behavior towards your supervisor, violating company policy and our code of conduct.
You will be able to receive your final paycheck by next Monday. You must also retrieve any of your personal belongings on your desk by Monday. Furthermore, please return any possessions of the company, including your security swipe card and the company-owned laptop.
Thank you, Ms. Patterson, for your past efforts and hope you are successful in your future.
Human Resource Department
Sonofabitch, I say in my head. Anger starts to burn inside of me and an overwhelming urge to throw the phone right across the room at the small TV in front of me starts to build up as well. ‘Unacceptable behavior,’ it says—more like ripping me from my right of freedom of speech. Just because one of the book published through us—well, through them now, I guess—became a New York Times bestseller, the bastard thinks his publishing house needs to only produce ‘high-quality novels,’ he said.
He can’t tell what a high-quality novel is even if it slaps him straight across his smug, nauseating face, if anything.
And it’s not like I had everyone in the company help me in making this one potential but brilliant client’s dream come true. The copyeditor, sure, but otherwise, that’s it. I presented the idea to the board meeting with only the copyedited manuscript, and yet the high-and-mighty publisher decides he doesn’t want to publish an amazing story that includes both science-fiction and fantasy.
As strange as it sounds, I would’ve read it—well, I actually did read through the whole manuscript since it’s part of my job—but I know that others would’ve liked it, too. I got hooked into it the moment I reached the second chapter, and I told my co-workers about it and they thought it sounded ‘awesome.’
It probably could’ve become Pendleton’s Publishing’s second New York Times bestseller, but that chance is all gone now.
And so is mine for getting my own place, my own car and travelling outside of country. Basically, the chance of me having any future in front of me is all gone now.
I mean, what else can I do with a stupid Bachelor’s Degree in English, the language I and everyone around me already speaks in every single fucking day? The only decent job I can think of off the top of my head is the job I’ve already lost now, and I doubt that other publishing houses will want to take me in if I apply because of the connections my boss has with every other local publishing houses, practically across the state. I can’t be a translator—and who the hell am I supposed to be a translator to—because I don’t know any other language. I can’t be a journalist because it takes more than proficiency in my mother language to be a journalist, including a degree in journalism itself, which I don’t have, but doesn’t include social anxiety, which I unfortunately do have.
I lie back down on the couch, resting my head on the hard pillow and my phone on my stomach. There’s no point in trying to busy myself with work now, so I have absolutely no idea what to do anymore. And so I decide to let the seconds tick by, constantly check the time and wait for Cam to come back. When he does, he stops in the doorway and stares upon my defeated form, knowing that something just happened and it wasn’t good.
He sets the plastic bag in his hand on the table, sits down and takes out a couple of plastic food containers. He hands one of them to me, along with a pair of cheaply-made plastic utensils, then studies me carefully, as though expecting me to immediately open up to him if he does so.
Unfortunately, he knows me all too well.
“I got fired from my job,” I say, unable to meet his eyes while opening the container’s lid where a semi-fresh serving of Caesar’s salad will be the only thing I’m having for lunch today.
“Wow,” he mutters, but his expression shows genuine surprise despite his tone of voice. “When I said I was expecting you’d get out of that hellhole, I didn’t think you’d escape it this way.”
“I know.” I stab the fork into a leaf and shove it to my mouth out of annoyance. “How the hell am I supposed to pay rent now? I can’t completely depend on Izzy for that—it’s unfair for her. And what about food, and basic necessities? How in the world am I supposed to keep myself alive now?”
He then asks about applying to other jobs, so I proceed to explain the situation to him, pointing out specifically the fact that my boss’ connections will get nowhere near a job in the same department, ever.
“How does he know all these people in the first place, though?” he asks, cocking an eyebrow as he takes a spoonful of whatever Thai food he bought for himself. “He’s not some big shot guy in the industry, is he? Only one bestseller, you said?”
“And one that I edited and promoted for in the board meeting, too,” I say, rolling my eyes. “They’re all fishing buddies, those old men. He has pals in all sorts of other industries, too, all of them sharing the exact same hobby. Guess old businessmen spend their time catching fish instead of coming home to their wives and children, huh?”
“Well, it’s still better than cheating on their wives, at least.” He gives a silent chuckle as he eats the spoonful and grabs his drink, taking a sip of the flavored liquid. Although I’m tempted to shake my head at his poor attempt for lightening up the mood, I’m still grateful that he even attempted in the first place. Just like good, ol’ Cam. “I think, what your boss is trying to say is that just because you’ve given the publishing house one bestseller, that doesn’t mean you can advocate for other stories by saying that they’re gonna be bestselling ones, too—not saying that you don’t have a good editor’s eye or anything, but it can happen.”
Instead of replying to him, I reach over for my files—the cover is drenched and drying off but thankfully the contents are still dry and intact—and flip it over to the manuscript, handing it over to him. He sets down his food to take the large folder and place it on his lap, then flips through the pages while quickly scanning over the content.
“Okay, this is interesting,” he says. Both his eyebrows perk up and I know he’s not lying. “Well, if I know teenagers these days—and I don’t, I’m just saying this judging by the general trend in movies these days, like that sappy cancer romance film, whatever it’s called—I think this one does have potential. Like, Lord of the Rings kind of potential.”
“See?” I exclaim before sighing and plopping back down to the couch. Then I frown. “You’ve never read Lord of the Rings, have you?”
“I watch the movies, okay?” The corners of his lips pull back to form a playful scowl. “That still counts as something. And The Hobbit ones, too. And a couple from the Harry Potter series.” I glare at him. “What? You know I’m more of a movie kind of guy! I don’t have time to read books like you do, or flip through thousands of pages of manuscripts like your job forces you, too—well, forced, but you get my point.”
I close my eyes when he said ‘forced.’ It still sucks to know that you’ve become unemployed just because I stood up for something that I feel, in my heart, is right. The book could’ve had so much potential.
He must’ve seen the look on my face because the one on his softens. “Right. Well, look at the bright side; at least you don’t have to spend every single waking day of your life, every bit of your energy on that son of an ass. You deserve better, Em. You’ve got drive—ambition. Where has all that energy gone? Where’s the Em I used to know?”
“That side of me died a long time ago, I think.” My shoulders slump and I manage a feeble smile. “I’m half a decade away from reaching the age where stereotypical women become housewives and take care of their children while bound to the duties at home. Half a decade isn’t a lot of time, Cam. Other people have started since they finish high-school, or college or university. Some people have already built up their career and future since they’re children. Me? I’ve just wasted a bunch of years in my life chasing after a degree that’ll get me a job in nowhere and working in a place I call my personal hell. What the hell am I going to do now?”
A hint of sadness replaces his expression but even he knows that he can’t do anything to help me. I’m all alone at this point. It’s not like I have any other experiences like running a business of my own, or have any skills to provide for that business to even run. It’s not like I can bake desserts or knit clothing or do anything useful that can give me some spare cash. All I can do is type on a computer and be a grammar nerd while the only skill I have is on Microsoft Word.
Maybe I should’ve taken some minors, or a double major back in university. Maybe it would help me in a situation like this, but it’s too late now.
The phone buzzes again. It almost startles me in doing so and brings both our attention to it. Putting the food container down beside me, I grab the device and see a call coming in. I pick it up.
“WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU, GIRL?” I flinch away from the phone. The voice yelling in my ear through the static unmistakably belongs to none other than Isabelle Cross.
“Somewhere,” I say, “over the rainbow.”
The voice that replies has toned down a bit, reduced to a monotonous one that clearly doesn’t appreciate my joke. “Hardy-har-har, you think you’re so funny, aren’t you? No, seriously though—where the fuck are you? The door’s still locked since I locked it last night, so clearly you’re not here. And don’t say you’re out buying lunch or anything, because I don’t see your shit lying around in the living room like you always leave them whenever you finish work late.”
“Why are you worried about me now?” I glance back at the clock. “It’s almost noon. I thought you would’ve called me earlier. Don’t tell me you just woke up.”
“Hey, don’t answer my question with another question! Answer mine first, bitch.”
“I’m… somewhere,” I say, turning to Cam with a hesitant look. He shakes his head and I quickly catch his drift “Just… don’t worry about it, okay? I’ll be there soon enough.”
“You better,” she says one last time before the line cuts off and I set the phone down. Quickly finishing the last of my lunch, I move to the kitchen area just to throw the container away before returning to the living room and start gathering my belongings.
“Leaving so soon, eh?” says Cam, and I turn around to see him staring at me with this strange look in his eyes that I can’t pin-point exactly what. Almost like sorrow with a hint of regret, but there’s something else in there. Something I can’t figure out—it’s always there in him, whether we were dating or not, and to this day I have yet to know everything about him. Perhaps I never will.
“Yeah, Izzy’s frantic already,” I reply, opting to drop the subject of the internal debate in my head and focus back on my stuff that’s still cluttered all over the place. “Hey, thanks for, you know… For everything. I don’t know what I’ll do if you hadn’t helped me last night. I really appreciate it.”
“No sweat.” There’s a short pause then he adds, “Hey, do you wanna, uh, maybe keep in touch for once? We haven’t really talked since… you know, since we split. I know that people don’t normally do this kind of stuff, but…” He sighs and runs his hand through his already-messy hair. “Em, we were friends before we started dating. I know things won’t be like it used to, but maybe we should just hang out sometimes. Just as friends, you know?”
I pause and start to think twice about it, but when the phone buzzes again and I see it’s Izzy calling me again, I realize she won’t going to stop bothering me until she sees me safe and sound—something that proves she’s a great best friend and roommate, but kinda irritating when you’re in front of your ex, possibly making a promise I won’t keep.
But then I realize, what’s the harm done if I do say yes? He did say ‘maybe’—we both may just be too busy to even meet up and hang out, ‘as friends’ as he words it. Though I can’t find a reason why I might be too busy when I don’t have a job anymore, he might be busy with his, whatever it is or even if he has one.
“All right,” I say, but I don’t turn around to meet eye contact as I grab my purse and then my folder from him. As I start to head towards the front door, I hear footsteps behind me and turn around to see Cam following then moving ahead of me, grabbing the doorknob and opening the door before I do.
He smiles with a hint of mischief, reminding me of the younger version of Cameron Hood whom I fell in love with a long time ago, all the while reminding me of my old self, still brimming with hope and determination like a little child when asked what they wanted to be when they were older. We were both so young, sort-of stupid but we thought we could take on the world, just the two of us alone.
All of that is gone now and we are brought back to the cruel reality, where we have jobs and responsibilities and commitment, all of which we forgot back when we were still together. Maybe that’s why we broke up. Maybe that’s why, we’re just not meant for each other.
I smile back, grateful but also more hopeful than I felt just minutes ago.
“Thanks a lot, again, for everything and your help and…”
“Yeah, yeah, I get that a lot,” he jokingly says, waving a dismissive hand. “Just because we used to date, doesn’t mean we’re strangers, okay? You know where I live—if you ever need any help, just pay me a short visit or just call me. You still have my number, right?”
“Never deleted it.” Only because I’m too lazy to.
I step outside and back onto the porch, but when I look up to the sky, there’s not even a single cloud up there, and the sun is shining much too bright to accommodate for my mood. Still, at least it’s not raining anymore, and it’s midday, meaning the buses are still running and I don’t need to get into weird taxis that take you to the completely wrong address, all the way in the other side of town from where my destination should be.
I can’t forget about that taxi last night, either. It’s in the back of my head while I’m still dealing with Cam, but maybe the driver’s just bad at doing his job or something. Otherwise, it must’ve been just a coincidence that I was dropped here at Cam’s place, right?
I climb down the porch steps and head back onto the pavement, but spin around one last time to face him as he stands by the doorway, waving me a goodbye. I wave back and start walking down the road before hearing his front door slam shut.
I wish I can say this is the last time we’ll see each other, and yet a strange feeling on my back is telling me this may not be the end for the both of us.ns 184.108.40.206da2